Everything That Came Before
“To this day, the two biggest things that I feel weigh on me artistically are time and money. When I was a younger artist, I felt my restrictions and my barriers were holding me back, but now I realize they’ve made me a greater artist.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview by Theo Constantinou & Images provided by Jeremy Zini
He told me that when he was in a Cuban city he saw men pulled out from in front of him mid conversation by police. Others showed with their eyes the action of holding one finger to their lips. If anyone said a word, they would be taken. The eerie possibility of disappearing into a void of punishment would make anyone leave, and he took the next train to a randomly selected village. After arriving he wandered to a man who said, “I have been waiting for you.” This was no man that he knew, nor were the others where the man took him, but a bond gripped them because somehow they felt they had met before. He met the elder, now his godfather, who cast shells onto the dirt before them. The tiny exoskeletons fell into patterns that revealed secrets a conscious mind would find impossible to channel; his spirit animal was said to be a tiger. Shortly after, his godfather asked, “Would you like to become one of us?” “Yes.” A vibrating blur, a collapse of time and space consumed him. Between stages of existence, an initiate pulled through hardships symbolically, having to carry the weight and valor of his new status. Naked, blindfolded, cut, and covered with sticky herbs mingling with his sweat he clenched a raw, and bloodied chicken throat between his teeth. He made decisions he thought he could not. In the end it wasn’t exactly enlightenment, but it was a new perspective to see through. By losing himself, possession of his actions and time, he came to further appreciate struggleand loss. He also learned to take hold of the self and just be. As a reward for his commitment he now had a stronger sense of foresight.
Jeremy Zini is an artist who uses found poetry to build the structure of his artwork. Poetry does not only apply to words, but photographs, and other circumstantial materials that can be manipulated to visually, tangibly, or audibly mimic emotion. Along with using his creative vision impressed upon elements previously existing, he paints with fire. Zini connects to people and objects on a deeply personal level keeping things individualized down to every last business card of his being unique to itself. This is a man who meditates twice a day removing himself from his surroundings just to contemplate them more deeply when he returns. Jeremy is filled with stories, and honest recollections. An inspirational, well-traveled, and kind gentleman it was my great pleasure to have met him.
I found myself reading more and more of the drunkards, as I like to call them. William Faulkner, being one of them, said, “Clocks slay time, time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” I know your work deals with the concept of time and how it manifests itself, but what are your personal thoughts on stopping time with personal moments when you’re working on art, or with your family, or moments when you wish time wasn’t being “clicked off by little wheels”?
Many things are coming to mind. I don’t believe in the clock, and even less in the calendar year, which has been altered though out history by politicians and religious types. If anything, I believe in a lunar year.
In regards to Faulkner’s quote, I agree completely. Especially when I am working on my art. If I don’t have to be anywhere the next day, then I am in big trouble. I go into the “zone” where everything seems infinite. It’s an intense place to be so very draining both mentally and physically. I usually can’t sustain it for more then a day or two without a break, but when I am in it, the clock has stopped.
Specifically, let’s say, taking what I learned about you over beers with Larry. The ideas of time or holding onto moments brings a sense of urgency to my life and time and death; it’s that concept. When I was in Seattle, there was this beautiful sunset and I was hanging out with two producers who I’ve been listening to for a long time. I really respect them as musicians, and sitting there speaking to them and watching the sunset over the city, I just realized that I had to be aware of that moment, the time was fleeting …
Absolutely. It’s never stable and therefore it’s important to be grateful and conscious in the present. I had a moment like that in my life when I first got to Mexico. I had just come back from six months traveling in Asia with a broken heart. Asia didn’t connect with me at all, so I decided to go to Cuba. To get to Cuba, I had to go through Mexico, where I had never wanted to go to in my life. As you know, I fell in love with Mexico City and ended up living there for a year and a half. When I first got to Mexico, my heart was still a mess. An old friend seeing the condition I was in gave me two tabs of acid and advised me to take a bus to a little beach in Oaxaca.
When I got there, I found a room for rent from some Italians who believe it or not were hanging out at the bus station. One day, on the Italian’s birthday, I made my move. I gave him one tab as his birthday present and asked, ‘Where do I go where there’s nobody?’ So he said, ‘Do you see the lighthouse over there where all the surfers are? Go to the other side of the lighthouse.’ So I go to the other side of the lighthouse and there is nobody. Miles of deserted beach all to myself. I take the acid, take off my bathing suit and I’m naked all day in the sun, never saw another person, tripping my balls off on acid, swimming, floating, rolling around in the sand, drawing. At one moment I’m sitting there looking at the ocean and I think to myself, ‘Wait a minute! You’re 27 years old, you don’t have a job, you don’t have a home, you don’t have a girlfriend, you don’t have any responsibilities, you’re tripping your balls off on acid on a beach in Mexico. This is the freest you’re ever going to be!’ And at that moment, quite possibly because of the acid, the sounds of the waves crashing turned into applause.
I think that completely answers the question as far as time, the ‘clocks’ ticked your beautiful moment away. It’s a conundrum, what he’s saying is ‘only when the clock stops, time has come to life,’ so in that moment the clock stopped, life came to life almost, but still it’s under constraints.
When we met the other day in NYC you spoke to me about your travels in Asia. What stuck out to me, you spoke about the almost apocalyptic nature of Cambodia, then earlier that day I came across this photograph of Che Guevara posted in a journal with one of his quotes which I really like, “Many will call me an adventurer – and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes.” I found this to be quite fitting within your experiences and diverse background. Do you regard yourself as an adventurer and one who specifically wants to prove his dullness?
Absolutely. The first thing I do usually is go to the roughest place, or the places that nobody else would go.
Why do you think you do that?
Well, I actually do it for several reasons. One is to not be a tourist. I need to go and find out for myself on a street level what’s going on in a country. Rich people are typically the same in every country but if you want to learn about a country’s spiritual wealth, then you talk to the poor and see how they live their lives. Usually the poorest places have the kindest, most generous people I have ever met.
There is so much propaganda in the United States about the dangers of foreign countries, I need to go out and find out for myself. I found that most anywhere you go in the world, as long as you’re confident, you know who you are, and you’re not looking for trouble, there’s no problem. I’ve walked around many rough neighborhoods at dawn dressed in Gaultier, with bling on and so far, so good.
This is a quote from Henry Rollins from when we spoke. When he travels …
You project, you create your own reality. You walk around scared, shit’s going to happen.What are they going to do to me?
He said he just puts his hand out and says, ‘Hey man, I’m Henry, nice to meet you’ … There was more to it, but the point is about humanizing people …
I remember one night, I was walking on Houston Street right when the lower East Side started turning. I was coming back from Max Fish and these kind of like black pimp guys with canes are walking down and they’re all blocking the street, kind of looking for trouble. I’m just walking and one takes his cane right to my neck and puts me against the chain link fence and I just say to him calmly, ‘And now what?’ I’m like, ‘Look, there’s five of you, one of me, what’s your point?’ The guy just chuckled, put the cane down, and I walked home.
Like I told you and Larry, when I was caught in a bad neighborhood, I was in a full suit in the most dangerous part of Philadelphia. I walked tall, kept my head down, didn’t make eye contact and that was it.
People are animals. Like dogs, they smell the fear. Especially street people; they live off it.
I agree with that 100%, I say that a lot. We smell it. People can sense fear, they can respect, and I don’t even want to say it because it’s very corny, but it’s game, recognize game. It’s more like a man respecting a man; when I walk into a room, I shake a man’s hand, I look them in the eye, and there it is right there, you can gauge in that exact moment what it is.
Or what it isn’t.
Nietzsche said, ‘Our choices and actions determine who we are; who we become is our responsibility.’ Do you think that’s true that our choices and actions determine who we are and who are you trying to become?
I do believe that. It is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m definitely trying to become a gentleman.
What would your definition of that be?
Being well mannered, having integrity, to understand the value in things. Being yourself but respectful of others.
It’s an interesting thing, especially today, with all this social retardation that is happening, guys like you, me, people we surround ourselves with, we are the last of a dying breed in this generation. What you’re saying is so convoluted and watered down to young kids now, they have no idea. Old school doesn’t exist anymore. A four year old is a computer whiz who has no idea about real things …
But I wonder if we’re just being old farts. Every generation bitched about, ‘the kids these days.”
We’re not that old man. Where are we? Are we just stuck in limbo two generations? We respect the old, and we kind of grew up in new, but we really didn’t. I feel maybe we are stuck in limbo. Shit, I didn’t even have a fucking cell phone until I was 18, but even now I’m an asshole, my computer takes an extra second to load and I’m freaking out. I remember growing up, we had to block telephone lines, and I’d have to leave my parent’s phone tapped up all night so I could download two songs, let alone a full album or a zip file in 30 seconds. It’s interesting.
Only time will tell.
Besides a gentlemen, do you think there is anyone else you’re trying to become or specifically to your art?
Well, currently in terms of my artistic process, I am just trying to have more faith in the place that the work is coming from. I still think about and question the work. At times there is doubt, but I am trying to let the process happen, and for better or worse, be less critical or academic and more poetic in my approach.
In terms of my artistic career, I want to be successful. I don’t want to be a waiter the rest of my life. I would love to eventually be in a position to be able to influence things in society and to help other people and artists.
Kind of like O’Brien and those kind of guys or even more just …
More like what David Lynch is doing right now with both his art and his foundation. I think what he’s doing is really exciting, but there are capitalist aspects involved that I don’t like. I don’t have all the details of the plan figured out yet, but the intent is there.
With that, are you a believer that if you keep doing it, you will eventually be recognized, and even become that?
I don’t believe that if I do it long enough I’ll be recognized, but I believe if I believe it long enough I’ll become it.
I read something recently, ‘Any man who is attached to the senses, and things of this world is one who lives in ignorance being consumed by the snakes that represent his own passions.’ Whenever I read that, it’s kind of me in a way, but at the same time I’m still searching for, and I think everybody wants to be loved in a way, but how do you bounce back from heartbreak? That’s a real question, and is it always a re-interpretation in your art? My art is trying to tell stories and give other people an idea that they’re not the only ones out there potentially suffering …
Can you repeat the quote?
“Any man who is attached to the senses and things in this world lives in ignorance, is being consumed by the snakes that represent his own passions.”
It reminds me of a quote my dear friend Renee once sent me when I was suffering from that broken heart I spoke of earlier. “Love, with very young people, is a heartless business. We drink at that age from thirst, or to get drunk; it is only later in life that we occupy ourselves with the individuality of our wine. A young man in love is essentially enraptured by the forces within himself.” It was written by Isak Dinesen, which was the pen name of Karen Blixen. What you’re feeling is perfectly normal and just part of the process of finding out who you are. I bounced back by making art my wife. Till death do us part.
May Day having just passed, and the presidential elections are coming up as well, I thought of a quote by Orwell that I read in Homage to Catalonia, it’s this unbelievable true light shed on the Spanish Civil war, it was written like a true journalist. I have the utmost respect for his writings. It’s unreal. I feel as though we are living at a time when most educated folks are allowing themselves to be brain washed by the system. He says, “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” Do you agree with this statement, and more so, where do you stand on the political system of this country especially since you have seen political systems dictate in countries less fortunate?
I often think about that. I think any true artist is taking a political stand. You’re not conforming; you’re not doing what you’re supposed to being doing. I think it’s more important today than ever. The only thing that separates this country from less fortunate ones is that we have more rich people and better infrastructure.
It’s more of a conversation piece, even that being said … I think we have some freedom.
I think in today’s United States of America our sense of freedom unfortunately is a false one. For example when I was in college, I was bartending a few blocks from my house. After work, just to chill out, I would buy a beer and sip it as I walked slowly home. I was never drunk and thought it was legal as long as it was in a brown bag. One night I’m walking home after work when two cops block my path. One takes the beer out of my hand and pours it out in front of me asking for my I.D. I try explaining to him the situation, I don’t have my I.D. but I live right there and I work right there and I just got out of work. I tell him I thought I had the right to drink a beer in a brown bag. And he says to me, ‘Since the Patriot Act, you have no more rights.’ Literally, I swear he says, ‘ I can take you to Guantanamo Bay right now if I want to.’ That was when I realized how free we really are in this country. Freedom in this country has more to do with misinformation than liberty and justice for all. It was the inspiration for the first piece that I ever did with the intention of being art. I named the piece ‘Lady Liberty’ and it consisted of a symbol of liberty repeated. She is a burlesque dancer with her arm up, stars behind her and in each image faceless.
From my standpoint on politics, I try to keep out as much as I can. I don’t like to talk to people about it, I don’t even like to discuss it because everyone has their own opinions about certain things and …
I like to speak about it less and less as well. I don’t follow the news anymore. Every time I watch the news I ask myself, why I am doing it? Every time you watch some politician is cheating on his wife, some mother drowns her kids, a serial killer is on the loose, natural disasters, terrorists, drugs, and your children may be in danger! It’s like watching reruns. Why have all that nonsense, fear, and propaganda in your mind? It does no good.
That’s what Orwell says when it’s all politics in the end, and politics is just a mass of lies … What was the eventual outcome of the beer incident ?
I don’t remember the exact sum of the fine. I think it was $275. And since then the laws have gotten worse. Like free wiretapping on US citizens …
What was that huge thing that just passed?
I don’t remember the name of it, but it’s like the constitution is…
Just sitting in some pretty glass box, fucking ten blocks away…
Exactly. It’s like a…
Exactly, I am sure you can buy one at a gift shop for tourists here in Philly that holds just as much inconsequentiality as the original does. The founding fathers would be pretty pissed if they could see what’s going on today. Good thing they are not around. They would probably be thrown in jail for being terrorists or sent back to Europe for being immigrant socialists.
You’re right. When you think of it in those terms,’ we’re not free. Like if I start speaking to you, and all of these people I’m talking to are speaking about political issues defy the system, they can come and shut me down whenever they want then. Where’s my right to free speech?
I know it’s really scary. We better watch our backs.
This is the last question and it’s from Adria. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of my favorite short stories. It is about a woman who basically goes crazy from being suppressed by society; she becomes suffocated by the constraints of being a woman. At the end, it begins to get creepy, and has the vibe of the horror film The Ring, the sort of uncomfortable yet inspirational vibe that I got from your photography and collages. This story is all about entropy, but here the final chaos brings freedom. This is some of the ending:
“I don’t want to go outside. I won’t, even if Jennie asks me to. For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way. Why there’s John at the door! It is no use, young man, you can’t open it! How he does call and pound! Now he’s crying for an axe. . .”What is the matter?” he cried. “For God’s sake, what are you doing!” I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!”
What restrictions, or barriers have you had to push through in order to pursue artwork? Why are you drawn to aspects of decay, and how does loss of stability play a role in your life?
To this day, the two biggest things that I feel weigh on me artistically are time and money. When I was a younger artist, I felt my restrictions and my barriers were holding me back, but now I realize they’ve made me a greater artist. For example, when I was in Mexico, I was so broke at one point I lived off two tamales a day. One for breakfast in the morning and one for dinner at night. I was living in a hotel that was like the Chelsea used to be, a beautiful old run -down building where artists and tramps could rent cheap rooms month to month and there was a book exchange in the lobby. One day I went down to exchange a book and it just hit me, ‘There’s material in here for me to work with!’ I read the dedication in the book I chose and I was genuinely moved both aesthetically and emotionally. There was something in the act of showing gratitude or acknowledging something or someone other than yourself and in the yellowed pages’ worn edges that truly affected me. I ripped it out and have been collecting dedications ever since. One day I would like to have an exhibition where all of the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with framed dedications accompanied by a limited edition book containing nothing but the dedications. From there I started ripping out other page and crossing words to create new sentences, poems, or just to emphasize something, which turned into another series. Looking back, I’m really thankful for my struggles so far.
Why are you drawn to aspects of decay, and how does loss of stability play a role in your life ?
I’m drawn to decay because it is the physical evidence of times passing, of the evolution of things. It’s factual. Proof that things are changing. There’s no denying it. As far as stability goes, I think we sort of surmised that nothing is ever stable. Everything is constantly in a state of flux. Knowing that is a comfort to me when times get wobbly.
Have those losses fueled you positively or negatively? Do you believe that everything succumbs to chaos, or that chaos is simply part of a larger cycle?
I definitely feel it’s all fueled me positively. It’s a cliché but I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it wasn’t for everything that came before. In my mind there is order in chaos. I feel that’s apparent; if you need proof, just go spend a week in Mexico City and take a look around. I just read a part of Glenn O’Brien’s book that I loved and agree with completely when he says, “I believe that the true anarchist, the exponent of freedom and enemy of intrusive government, must see good manners are the inevitable substitute for laws. A healthy society doesn’t need many laws because offensive behaviour “just isn’t done.”